27 June 2010

Onward and upward

Track laying continues around the inner feeder loop, from B1l round to F4i. My trusty Hoover gets up the inner incline without any complaints - so the secret really may be in beefing up my motive power. I wonder how much that will cost...

The crossover shown in the picture (F1i) will have surface-mounted point motors because there is too much woodwork underneath the track beds to accommodate underslung PL-10s. I still hope to use PL-10s, because I can then attach microswitches to give me a display on the control panel (remember that?).

The single point in the foreground is the turnout for the "cassette loader" mentioned in a much earlier post. I don't know whether I will ever build that, but it's useful to have the option. So far, that is the only Hornby point on the model.

I have now got as far as I can reasonably go with the track laying, without doing other stuff. That "other stuff" is listed in my previous post. In essence: sort out the alignment around the lower level first, then make the storage sidings ready (lights, camera, action!) for the lids to go on.

Having been admonished in an old Cyril Freezer book that "unless there is access to all tracks, performance will suffer" [1], I am thinking a lot about how I'll keep good access to the lower-level storage sidings once the lids do go on. I know my design is not optimal - I would rather not hide the sidings away like that - but space constraints have dictated it for the type of layout I want to build. My current thinking is to make the front of every station baseboard (i.e. boards B2-B4) hinged, so that I can lift up flaps to get into the sidings. I'm still working on that, but it seems to be the best option I have.

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[1] C.J. Freezer, PSL Book of Model Railway Track Plans, 1988. Yeovil: Patrick Stephens Ltd.

18 June 2010

Going slowly round the bend

This is not the promised video, but as I've finally completed track-laying on the outer loop (woo!) I thought I'd post a couple of short clips.

video video

The track-laying has gone well and I am pleased with the appearance of the loop. Ballasting will come later so it doesn't look especially "authentic" at the moment. The tools and the large rolls of loft insulation don't help the authenticity either. When I've had the chance to tidy up (which will be next week now), I will make the promised video starting in the storage sidings.

The point visible at the far end of the loop is the beginning of the station throat. Before I can start laying track in the station I will have to do a number of things:
  1. Complete all the lower-level track laying and wiring
  2. Sort out some issues with levels at the section breaks - to eliminate the risk of derailment in inaccessible places
  3. Devise a way of monitoring the trains in the hidden storage sidings
  4. Finally lay the baseboard tops to "seal in" the lower level sidings
(3) is by far the hardest of these. In the absence of detailed electronics knowledge I am currently thinking that I will use a few cheap webcams, with LED lighting for illumination, and monitor the sidings on the laptop. I had big plans for optoelectronic detectors: that might be a phase 2 project, but is neither practical nor affordable at the moment.

09 June 2010

A digital Hoover, and a disappointing portal

A quiet evening last week saw me take the plunge and convert my Hornby class 50 loco to run on DCC. It was supplied DCC-ready so the process was not difficult: just lifting the shell off, unplugging something, fitting the DCC decoder into the resultant socket, and putting the shell back on. But the shell has so many delicate pipes and dangly bits that I've been very reluctant to do it, for fear of breaking something. It shows how hesitant a modeller I am if I can't even trust myself to do something as simple as that. Memories of the Great Train Accident, recounted in brief here, still haunt me I guess.

But I have finally done it, without incident, and as a result I have a functioning, digital Hoover that responds to my every whim. Well, it doesn't make a cup of tea, or even clean the stair carpet. But it does take DCC commands, and it does haul a seven-coach train up the outer incline with no loss of traction. In my book, that's a result.

And, with the shell off, I can see that it's a monster of a motor. Far bigger and heavier than the power plants in any of my old locos. Maybe that's the real answer to my incline conundrum: upgrade all my old locos with more powerful motors and add ballast to weigh them down. Would that be cheaper than buying new locos? I have no idea at this point.

Track-laying continues around the outer incline; there's no point showing another picture which is just a variant of "here's some more track what I laid". After a while, they all look the same. But I promise to post a short video when I can run a train all the way from the storage sidings round to the B1u station approach. That should be next week or the week after.

But what is this "disappointing portal" of which the title speaks? Well, I figured I should be ready for the scenery by getting hold of the tunnel portals for the two inclines. I ordered and received two Peco portals (LK-32) in readiness. I have to say I find them very disappointing. They're flimsy and not very convincing-looking, and it's not clear how I am supposed to attach them. Glue, I suppose. I would probably have been better off waiting, and looking a bit further afield. And maybe I will still do that.

I did, though, get good service from Buffers Model Railways ("As featured on James May's Toy Stories", so says their website). I would use them again, and recommend them.